A Comparative Algorithm Audit of Conspiracies on the Net: Conclusion and Bibliographyby@browserology
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A Comparative Algorithm Audit of Conspiracies on the Net: Conclusion and Bibliography

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A comparative algorithm audit of the distribution of conspiratorial information in search results across five search engines.
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This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.


(1) Aleksandra Urman, She is a corresponding author from Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, Switzerland;

(2) Mykola Makhortykh, Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland;

(3) Roberto Ulloa, GESIS - Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, Germany;

(4) Juhi Kulshrestha, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz, Germany.


We found that most of the search engines display conspiracy-promoting results, though the share of such results varies across specific conspiracy-related queries. In our sample most conspiracy-promoting results came from social media platforms and dedicated conspiracy websites, while debunking information was found predominantly on scientific websites and, to a smaller extent, on legacy media. Our observations are robust across several locations and two time periods. The good news is that Google - the search engine with the biggest market share - has managed to mitigate the problem to a few isolated instances. We suggest that the example of Google shows that conspiratorial results can be effectively handled to become less prevalent in top SE outputs, and that other SEs should follow suit and put the results they provide under higher scrutiny not only with regard to conspiracy theories but other types of inaccurate and/or biased information. This is especially relevant and timely as of now, when radical groups are attempting to create an alternative tech ecosystem and, among other, migrate from Google to DuckDuckGo, accusing the former of censorship and reinforcing the prioritization of far-right and/or conspiratorial sources on the latter (Diggit Magazine, 2020). It shows the potential for ideologically charged hijacking of smaller SEs that can influence their outputs. Against this backdrop, it is crucial to assure the quality of information SEs provide to users through both SEs’ own internal monitoring and external audits such as the one conducted in the present study.


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